With the recent release of the most famous Christian artist on earth Kanye West’s newest album Donda, there must be some good songs to talk about, right? While my opinions may be terrible, I hope you enjoy reading this list of how the songs on Donda are trash or fantastic. I chose not to add in the second versions of songs, primarily because they do not flow as a part of the actual album and the flow of the album is indisputably part of the listening experience in my opinion.
So, without any further ado:
“Tell the Vision” is the kind of song that could have gone somewhere important, reflecting on the late Pop Smoke and using several bars from his voice snippets to reflect on death and legacy. However, the production actively works against these concepts as the abortively short song flops, failing to communicate any meaningful ideas through the music.
As interesting as a Lil Yachty song should be with Kanye, this is not it. A weak, moving synth atmosphere with unfortunately boring bars on how the “Industry is hurting our careers” does nothing to elevate a song that could have been better. “Ok Ok” should have been cut from the tracklist. No one wants to hear about Kanye and Lil Yachty complaining about the music industry at this point in their careers when they both have respectively solidified their positions among the most popular of all time.
“Remote Control” is going to be a controversial track for many, given it does feel at least moderately finished compared to many of the songs around it. Exploring the concept of God having control of the world via a remote control in tandem with some of the sillier production choices on the album, makes for an odd disconnect between topic and sound. The melody is weak, the whistle portion is stupid and the Globglobabagalab meme does nothing to set up the track directly following it. It’s a joke song with a weak punchline at best.
“Jonah” is probably the most confusing song placement on this album. While the melody isn’t terrible and Vory puts up a strong performance, backed up by some really smart vocal mixing, there is little movement to the song and it slows down the 2nd act of this album which starts with the prior track, “Praise God.”
“Praise God” is the last time this album makes sense as a cohesive work of art. The story ark thus far has made it to some very dark places, thematically represented by the ominous and often intense music in the first five tracks. Baby Keem frankly underperforms on his verse and the 808s don’t do nearly enough to vary his verse up for the last 1.5 minutes of boring music.
“The only complaint I have with “Donda” is that it’s missing all of the levity that the previous track, “Heaven and Hell” set it up for. You expect the intensity, or at least the dark mood to continue, but instead we get a Stalone feature and Donda West’s monologue. Donda West connects Kanye to the past generations of African-American artists who have blazed the trail before him. In sentiment, it makes sense, but there were better ways to add this song in.
The more times I hear this song, the less I have to say about it. It is self-evident as a very Kanye-esque way to set up an album. “Donda Chant” makes it absolutely clear that this album is for his mom, no caveats. The point is drilled in and, if you didn’t know it before, you know now that Kanye loves his mom.
An extended Kanye verse about Kim leaves this song feeling incomplete and lacking compared to the two directly preceding it. The weakest of Kanye’s “confessional” songs on the album, it’s more mediocre than bad, but definitely not one that people will come back to often in the future.
“No Child Left Behind” is a good, not great end to the album. After “Come to Life,” Ye clearly knew that there wasn’t much left to say, so most of the song is atmosphere. The production is good, the bars are simple. Well done.
Finally, a joke song on this album that lands! If Ye was intentionally making the center of Donda a mixed bag thematically and sonically, then he should have committed to the bit “Junya” plays. A great mix of bars that make you groan (“Tryna get me off my Q’s and P’s) and ones that connect (.45 gunners, in pajamas), Kanye proclaims his love for Japanese jewelry in song form. What more can you ask for from a joke song?
“God Breathed” is the first song on the album that doesn’t feel like an opener. The production is filled out, the production still tense, but opts for chilling backing vocals and an 808s of the like that we haven’t heard from Ye in years. Vory makes a contribution in the vocal department that sets him up as a great contributor to the album. A little bit underwritten, but a good song all the same.
Following the opus “Jesus Lord” which will show up much later on this ranking, “New Again” plays back into the fun, near-joke territory of Kanye’s music. While the concept of “Last night don’t count” may seem a little too close to treating sin as a minor issue to some, the general concept of God renewing us when we repent of sin is beautiful. Kanye and Chris Brown asking for God’s favor is borderline a joke in and of itself, but its placement after “Jesus Lord” brings out the meaning of the song in a genuine manner.
Kanye West and Roddy Rich kill it trading bars about their careers. The synth lines are a little underwhelming, but lines like, “Devil get behind me, I’m loose, I’m free” more than make up for it until Shenseea can take over for the outro.
“Keep My Spirit Alive” is what “Remote Control” could have been. Westside Gunn and Conway the Machine both produce great verses and Kanye is focused and on point in his. Each man reflects on how he kept his faith in God throughout their careers in the industry. Even Kenyan artist KayCyy croons over the chorus with a great hook. The only issue here is that Conway the Machine absolutely deserved more than the eight bars that Ye gave him.
Ye connects a Lauren Hill sample with bars sung straight for Kim, putting a great 808 beat underneath all of it to bring out a groove that rivals for the best on the album. Yes, there are some dud bars, but the confessional nature of Ye’s verse recommits him to the seriousness of this album after “Junya.” I still have no clue why Buju Banton’s verse works here, but the song needs it to feel complete.
This song should have been released as a single. Ye could have waited a week, took the #1 spot on the Hot 100 and then watched as Drake’s album received terrible reviews, following the next week with Donda to far more critical praise AND a #1 hit single. Obviously, Kanye is going to do whatever he wants, regardless of whether its best for his career. Regardless, “Hurricane’ is a great song, featuring both The Weeknd and Lil Baby fitting in perfectly into their respective roles. A long time in the waiting and well worth the time it took for us to hear it on an album.
“24” is a song with issues. It is reminiscent of Jesus is King, the vocal processing is suspect at best and there is little in the way of variation through the verses. However, there is nothing more spiritually encouraging than hearing a man who once released an album called My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy singing his heart out to the lyric, “God’s not finished!” There are a few songs on this album that are made amazing through God’s evident work in Kanye’s life and this is one of them.
“Off the Grid” is my pick for the song that will ultimately end up being the most important in the long run from this album. Fivio Foreign has been bouncing around the edge of the mainstream for a while now and putting up arguably the best verse on Donda will certainly not hurt his ascent. The descent into a drill-trap beat is just the stroke of creative genius that we missed on Jesus is King, however, the incomplete lyrics without curse words is very noticeable in Fivio’s verse. If this one catches hold in the mainstream for a longer chart run, expect to hear it referenced as an important part of 2021’s musical legacy.
“Moon” may have put the icing on top of the second act of this album, but “Heaven and Hell” opens the third with more impact than a meteor hitting earth. The eerie mood that haunted the first act returns as Kanye takes control of the narrative again with intensity. It brings us back to the Ye era with the manic grandiosity that has been missing from Kanye tracks for far too long.
Now here is the intro we needed, though perhaps not the one you would expect after hearing “Donda Chant.” The guitars roar in unison with the renaissance of Pop-Punk guitars in popular music, but also provide the tension that sets the tone for the album. JAY-Z brings back the return of the throne and, though his bars are by no means incredible, he does a perfect job of staying on topic to set up the context for the album. Easily one of the best songs on the album sheerly on how complete it is.
“Moon” ends the second act of this album in the best way possible. Don Tolliver is an angel as he croons the main melody and Kid Cudi fits in perfectly with a feathery verse. This song sounds like floating up to the moon. Kanye knows he didn’t have to add much more than his production to this gem.
“Jesus Lord” is heartbreaking. Kanye is in full-on Gospel mode as he cries out the line, “Tell me if you know someone that needs Jesus Lord.” The honest, raw verse that Ye opens with is the least filtered version of him that we’ve heard in years. Lyrics about Donda West’s passing and the systemic issues in families today bring out Kanye’s message in detail. Jay Electronica, a self-proclaimed Muslim storms in with fantastic bars on the best guest appearance on the album, all underneath the constantly repeating hook asking for those who need Jesus. Larry Hoover Jr. reminds us how people need Jesus here on earth, along with how Kanye has tried to show that love to others through his public persona. “Jesus Lord” is the perfect way to exemplify how everyone needs the Gospel.
“Come to Life” sounds like redemption feels. First off, Kanye is as confessional into his relationship with Kim as he has ever been here. Second, the use of organ brings out the levity of the song in conjunction with some classic production decisions echoing in the background of the track. The track builds up beautifully until the line, “Thoughts you had penciled in, should’ve wrote ‘em in pen.” Tyler, the Creator’s fantastic piano breakdown sets up a fantastic interlude into the massive second verse where Kanye confesses, “This is not about me.” A man who was once, and by some still is, considered the biggest egomaniac of our generation confessing his problems. This is Donda’s “Runaway.” If Kanye never makes another song as perfect as this one, he will die with at least one absolutely perfect song that proclaims how Christ has changed him.
Hi, my name is Jackson Thompson and I am a student at the University of Northwestern-St. Paul where I am studying for my bachelor’s degree in History. When I’m not reading up on the Napoleonic wars, I can be found listening to/playing music, beating my friends at Bonanza or enjoying the immaculate flavor of a Wisconsin cheese curd.